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The Cut-off

A Louisiana Ghost Story 

The devil was in the Mississippi River that night. You could feel it with every eddy swirling against the helm of the boat. You could hear it in every jangle of the bell. You could see it in the dim light of the lantern as it tried to pierce the swirling fog. You could sense it in the sound of the chugging engine. The devil was in the river. It was a bad night to be out in a paddleboat. But he had sworn when he set out that nothing could make him turn back.

No other pilot dared brave the Mississippi that night. They were all huddled in the tavern, gossiping. After an evening of listening to their empty boasts, he had made one himself. He knew the Mississippi River so well that he could guide his paddleboat on his run even through the thickness of the night’s fog. When the other pilots heard his boast, they laughed and told him he would be back before midnight. He had grown angry at their jeers, and had sworn in front of them all that he would not turn back this night for any reason, should the Devil bar the way!

The paddle wheeler was rocking oddly under the strange eddies of the river. But he knew every turn and guided her along despite the fog. He was almost to Raccourci when he saw shore where no shore had ever been before.

He turned the boat this way and that. It could not be! The river ran straight through on this branch. He had guided his paddleboat through this place a hundred times.

But the devil must have been listening at the tavern and had heard his boast, for the Mississippi had shifted! He swore every curse he knew, and kept searching for a way through. He had vowed to complete his run without turning back and he was determined to carry out his vow. He would never go back. Never! He would stay there until daybreak, and beyond if need be.

Suddenly, the paddleboat gave a massive jerk. The engine stalled. The boat shuddered and overturned. When the fog lifted the next day, they found his paddleboat sunk to the bottom with a gaping hole in its side, and the pilot drowned.

On foggy nights, you can still hear the ring of the bell, the sound of the engine and the curses of the ghost captain trying to complete his run.


You can read a longer version of the Louisiana folktale in Spooky South by S.E. Schlosser.
S.E. Schlosser

S.E. Schlosser

S.E. Schlosser is the author of the Spooky Series published by Globe Pequot Press. She has been telling stories since she was a child, when games of “let’s pretend” quickly built themselves into full-length tales acted out with friends. A graduate of both Houghton College and the Institute of Children’s Literature, Sandy received her MLS from Rutgers University while working as a full-time music teacher and a freelance author.